West Virginia currently has a 3-1 overall record and a 1-0 record in conference play. After a bye week, No. 23 West Virginia will travel to Fort Worth this Saturday to take on No. 9 TCU, who is also coming off a bye week
WVSports.com provides five different things to look for from the Mountaineers for the remainder of the season.
1. Backfield versatility and depth
After missing the Delaware State game due to violating team rules, sophomore running back Kennedy McKoy rushed for over 100 yards against Kansas along with senior running back Justin Crawford. The Kansas game marked the first time since the Kansas game last season that West Virginia had two different 100-yard rushers in a single game. With the Mountaineers taking a more pass heavy approach on offense this season, it’s not likely that we will see a lot of games where the offense will have two different 100-yard rushers, especially with the versatility that McKoy brings which could lead him to seeing some snaps at receiver, but that could change after his rushing performance against Kansas. With a backfield full of depth, don’t be surprised if sophomore running back Martell Pettaway gets more touches in the coming weeks late in games with his bruiser back ability which will wear defenses down.
2. McDougle and the defensive line
Freshman defensive lineman Lamonte McDougle is beginning to solidify himself as a top defensive lineman for Tony Gibson’s defense. The defensive line was one of the biggest question marks coming into this season and so far, the unit has been vulnerable to the run game, but have showed promise here and there. West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen said that McDougle will be seeing more playing time as a result of his impressive play which leaves uncertainty about whether or not the defensive line will be shuffled around to a significant extent. The defensive line will be put to the test as West Virginia enters the heart of Big 12 play. How the defensive line responds after allowing 367 rushing yards to Kansas will give you an idea of how capable this unit will be in rising to the occasion.
3. Injured players return to action
Holgorsen anticipates all injured players will be back full-time in time for the TCU game with the exception of backup linebacker and special teams contributor, Brendan Ferns, who will have surgery on his shoulder and miss the rest of the season. The team is expected to have linebacker David Long, offensive guard Grant Lingafelter, backup center Jacob Buccigrossi, safeties Toyous Avery and Kyzir White and cornerback Mike Daniels all back in time for the TCU game. How these players are utilized in their respective position groups and units will be something to watch through the season, especially with players like redshirt freshman Dylan Tonkery stepping up strong at linebacker in place of the injured Long. The best thing that comes with the injured players returning full-time is that it’ll provide the Mountaineers with some much-needed depth for the time being.
4. Will special teams show progress?
The Mountaineers have endured numerous ups and downs within their special teams unit this season. The unit has shown great progress with its return game and that success can be credited to the speedy receiver Marcus Simms, who has gained 225 total return yards so far this season. However, the field goal, punting, kickoff and field goal units continue to be concerns. Fifth-year Mike Molina is perfect on extra points this season, but is just 2/4 on field goals. Molina will have to be more consistent and prove he’s capable of making the clutch kicks as the Big 12 competition heats up. Redshirt freshman Evan Staley has kicked three kickoffs out of bounds this season so far and redshirt junior Billy Kinney is averaging under 40 yards per punt. All three of these aspects will play a critical role when it comes to field position as it did against Virginia Tech. The Mountaineers didn’t have to worry about that the past three games, but whether or not these units improve against the Big 12’s best will be something to watch and keep track of.
5. West Virginia’s matchups against ranked teams
West Virginia has not beaten a ranked team since it defeated No. 4 Baylor in 2014. In order to gain national attention, respect and solidify their status as a Big 12 contender, the Mountaineers are going to have to make a statement when they travel to Fort Worth to take on TCU Saturday. West Virginia has multiple chances to prove itself and gain national respect when it plays top-25 teams in TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. West Virginia’s performance in these games will show where they stand in the Big 12 and whether or not an appearance in the Big 12 Championship at AT&T Stadium is at all possible.